Laurentian University and province failed to protect French programs from cuts during restructuring, Commissioner reports

March 31, 2022

31 March 2022

Kelly Burke: University and two ministries must do more to ensure the French Language Services Act is respected

(TORONTO – March 31, 2022) Laurentian University, the Ministry of Francophone Affairs and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities neglected their obligations under the French Language Services Act during the university’s financial restructuring process, French Language Services Commissioner Kelly Burke found in her latest investigation.

“The nearly 50% cuts to French-language programs announced on April 12, 2021 by Laurentian University have had a significant and detrimental impact on the university’s delivery of French-language services,” Commissioner Burke says in her report, Strengthening the Designation: A Collaborative Effort, released today. She also found that the ministries failed to fulfil their own obligations to ensure French services at the university were protected.

The investigation revealed a lack of leadership in the administration of the French Language Services Act (FLSA). The university did not consult with the two ministries to discuss the impact of its decisions on its obligations under the FLSA before suspending and cutting programs. “Laurentian University and the ministries must take responsibility and work together to comply with the Act,” the Commissioner stated.

Her report makes 19 recommendations to fix communication gaps, improve planning and ensure such a situation does not happen again. The ministries and the university accepted all of the recommendations and pledged to report back to the Commissioner on their progress in implementing them.

The investigation, conducted by the French Language Services Unit of the Office of the Ombudsman, was launched last June in light of 60 complaints about the cuts. The unit conducted some 40 interviews and reviewed documents from the university and the ministries, all of which fully co-operated with the investigation.

Several of the complainants were students at the Sudbury-based university who were left with no other option but to relocate or continue their studies in English. Some, like those in the midwifery program, pointed out that the loss of their programs would also impact the Franco-Ontarian community at large – for example, no other school in the province trains midwives to provide services in French.

“The university no longer trains Francophone graduates who go on to work in this profession in French and provide services in French,” the Commissioner writes in the report. “I consider it crucial that the university analyze the impact of such a decision on its obligations under its designation.”

Laurentian University and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities were focused on the university’s financial difficulties, while the Ministry of Francophone Affairs failed to take an active role – resulting in “a situation where no one was ensuring the protection of language rights under the French Language Services Act,” the Commissioner notes. In all, the university cut 72 programs, including 29 French-language ones. Evidence gathered in the investigation indicated that French programs were cut largely because of low enrolment, with very little consideration of their FLSA designation.

Laurentian University violated the French Language Services Act (FLSA) when it cut all programs leading to two designated degrees – Master of Arts and Master of Human Kinetics – without following the steps set out in the law, Commissioner Burke found.

The main problems identified by the investigation were the lack of leadership, consultation and evaluation to proactively identify the impact of the university’s decisions on its designation. To remedy this, Commissioner Burke recommended that the three parties work together to ensure that the designation of the university is implemented and managed effectively.

The Commissioner stressed that her recommendations are aimed at preventing similar situations in the future: “I am confident that my recommendations will benefit French-speaking Ontarians in the future in the post-secondary education sector,” she states in the report.

For more information, please contact:

Emmanuelle Bleytou
Communications Manager, French Language Services and Children & Youth Units

Josée Laperrière
Communications Officer, French Language Services Unit

About the Office of the Ombudsman:
The Ombudsman is an independent and impartial officer of the Ontario Legislature, who reviews and resolves complaints from the public about provincial government organizations, as well as French language services, child protection services, municipalities, universities and school boards. The Ombudsman does not overturn the decisions of elected officials or set public policy, but makes recommendations to ensure administrative fairness, transparency and accountability. The Ombudsman's recommendations have been overwhelmingly accepted by the government, resulting in numerous reforms.
About the French Language Services Unit:
The Commissioner leads the French Language Services Unit – a team of Early Resolution Officers and Investigators that is fully supported by the Ombudsman’s Legal Services, Communications, Finance, Information Technology and Human Resources teams. The Commissioner and the Director of Operations, French Language Services Unit, are members of the Ombudsman's Executive Management Team.